Recently a few of us from St. Andrew’s attended a celebration event hosted by UCB Radio, the local Christian radio station in Cobourg. The night was designed to highlight how UCB Radio operates as a mission spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. There was music, drama, speeches and dessert.
Leading up to the event I had one question on my mind. What should I wear?
Do I wear my collar, a nice shirt, jacket and tie, suit, kilt? As the new kid on the block these were the questions that were running through my mind. You see I did not want to be overdressed for the occasion and I also did not want to be underdressed.
I think that is a question that many of us deal with when we are invited out to social occasions. What should I wear? We want to be comfortable in our clothing, we don’t want to stand out or cause a scene. We also want to observe social etiquette. I’ve seen weddings where guests are better dressed than the bride and groom, stealing attention as it were.
Truth is we don’t want to end up like the man who forgot to wear wedding clothes. We don’t want to be asked to leave because we are dressed inappropriately.
What to Wear – Audio Sermon
Our story is simple enough. The king decides to hold a wedding banquet for his son. So he sends out invitations, asking people to come.
But no one came.
So the king once again sends out the invitation.
Again, no one comes.
What is worse, rather than simply ignoring the invitation those who were invited kill the servants who brought the invitations.
So the king says to his servants, “Listen, the food is ready. Go out into the streets and invite anyone you can find to the banquet.”
The servants do so, inviting the good and the bad.
When the king enters the banquet hall he surveys the crowd and he sees a man who is not wearing wedding clothes.
The king asks him, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes my friend?
And the man was speechless, not a word comes out of his mouth.
The king then turns to his servants and says “Tie him up and throw him outside into the darkness.” Jesus concludes, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Now, if you are wondering what is going on here, I assure you, that you are not the only one.
Our problem with this parable stems from our treatment of the man who was thrown out of the wedding banquet. The man who showed up to the party and was grossly underdressed. He might have been one of the good or perhaps the bad that the servants rounded up. Our anger stems from the fact that this guy was invited and was then subsequently kicked out of the party. The way that the narrative flows it seems to me that he was doing the king a favour.
So let’s clear the air a little and dig into the parable. First the man was not removed from the party because of his clothing. So if you are at the back and you decided to wear shorts or a t-shirt to church today. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to leave. That is not what this parable is about.
Which might have some of your breathing a little easier, but the rest are still wondering. What is the point of this parable? What is Jesus trying to teach us in this story which I really do not like.
Friends, the problem with this parable, the reason we do not like it is because it does not say what we want it to say.
We want to read about God’s saving grace. About how God welcomes and invites all people. This parable does not fit into the notion that we have created about God or Jesus. In fact it seems to be very contrary to our understanding of God and Jesus. Truth is we dislike this parable because we do not want to hear what it teaches us.
We don’t want to read about judgment, gnashing of teeth or the demands that following Jesus actually puts on our life.
Am I wrong?
We don’t like to talk about these themes. In fact there are whole parts of the Bible that all things being equal we would rather not talk about at all. We have trouble reconciling this story that Jesus tells to when he asks that the children come to him or when the 5000 are fed. We have trouble seeing this as the same Jesus and we don’t like it. We want to return to what is comfortable to us.
Like when I child is hurt, they seek the comfort of their mom or dad. We read this passage and we say I want to go back to the Jesus I knew five or ten chapters ago. The Jesus that healed the sick and comforted the lonely. The Jesus who sat with Mary and Martha. I want to go back to that time.
The problem is we can’t go back. Just as a child eventually grows up, we too grow up in our faith. God wants this for us.
We need to understand that our choices have consequences. That when we mess things up we cannot just sweep it under the rug. Life is not a video game that we can just start over or a movie that we can rewind to watch our favourite parts.
The mystery of God’s grace and forgiveness towards us is not the same thing as saying everything will work out in the end. After all we have the Bible, we know how the story ends. And that is true, but knowing that ending is not the same as understanding our part in that ending.
Truth is when we don’t follow God’s commands for our life; things are not going to end up being alright. Look around the world and I think you would agree that the opposite is in fact true.
Our passage today needs to be understood in relation to what Jesus has already taught us. How we respond to that teaching and God’s outpouring of grace matter. It matters a great deal and we do not like this parable because it speaks to what might happen if we don’t take things seriously.
It’s like our health. If your doctor says stop eating high fat foods, quite smoking, exercise more because you might have a heart attack or develop cancer. Well if we ignore that warning, our health might be impacted in a negative way.
That is what is going on in our reading. Jesus is giving a prescription to the high priests and the Pharisee’s, just as he is giving one to us. The people have refused to come to the banquet, rejecting the son. They have ignored and killed God’s prophets.
So God has opened wide the floodgates, invite the good and the bad. So we come the banquet, invited by God, delighted by the teachings of the son, in awe of the grace that has been accorded to us. We come ready for the feast. Friends, this is good news. Because we know who the good and the bad are. The tax collectors, prostitutes, shepherds and fisherman. The riff raff, the nobodies, hurt and the down trodden, the people who thought they had been forgotten. You and me.
And this is where the story gets hard. You see God welcomes us, invites us in. God does this because we are loved by God. Each one of us is loved by God and called to the banquet. We come because we know what Jesus has done for us. We know how Jesus walks with us, talks with us, shares with us, heal us, loves us. We expect these things from Jesus. In doing all these things Jesus changes us and then Jesus says go and do likewise.
Our lives are transformed because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. And God wants that, God sent the son to cause that change in us. To allow that change in us, to give us the opportunity to be back in harmonious relationship with our creator.
What does it look like to hear about this grace, to see it, touch it and then to reject it?
Well that’s what happened to the man who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. He had accepted the invitation, but didn’t truly live it out in his life.
Friends, we don’t pick how we receive God’s grace.
We accept it, we are thankful for it. We don’t get to live within God’s grace when it suits us and then discard that grace at other times. Which is a hard message because so much of what we read about Jesus teaches us of how welcoming and inclusive Jesus is.
N. T. Wright puts this parable like this, “Isn’t that just the sort of social exclusion that the gospel rejects? Well, yes, of course, at that level. But that’s not how parables work. The point of the story is that Jesus is telling the truth, the truth that political and religious leaders often like to hide: the trust that God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which love and justice and truth and mercy and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear for the wedding. And if you refuse to put them on, you are saying you don’t want to stay at the party. That is the reality. If we don’t have the courage to say so, we are deceiving ourselves, and everyone who listens to us.”
So there it is. We go to the party and are invited to wear clothes of love, justice, truth and mercy. The very things that Jesus taught. We are asked to continue to do these things at all times, these are principles and beliefs that should change our very lives.
God asks this of us because the party is God’s party. We are asked to shed our old clothes and instead be as Christ to the world.
Friends, gospel living begins with an invitation; it cannot remain a mere idea.
In his letter to the Collisions, Paul writes “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16).
And in his letter which we read today to the church in Philippi, Paul writes “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice” (Philippians 4:8-9).
Jesus Christ is excellent.
Jesus Christ is praiseworthy.
Let’s put it into practice and may the God of peace be with you all. Amen.